Cletus Mushanawani News Editor
THE resumption of diamond trading by some of the major buyers in China has raised hope of better fortunes for local miners who have resumed operations following the commencement of the national lockdown in March.
The mining industry was considered essential and was among the first to be allowed to operate in accordance with strict Covid-19 safety measures.
However, the future had remained bleak for the industry given the spread of the virus, the shrinking global economy and the declining demand for luxury items such as diamonds.
But in an interview with this publication early this week, acting Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Mining Company chief executive, Mr Rob De Pretto said the Chiadzwa diamonds will be on the market soon.
“Diamond sales were resumed but currently it is not feasible to conduct tenders due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our initial plans were to have six international and six local tenders during the year. This has, however, been affected by the coronavirus.
“We will review the sales plan as global market developments unfold around the Covid-19 situation. In addition to the local Zimbabwean tenders, we also had plans to host at least four tenders outside Zimbabwe at diamond bourses like the ones in Dubai and Surat, India,” he said.
Mr De Pretto added: “We understand that China has already gone back into business at full throttle. In this regard, we are very optimistic that we will be in the market soon.”
ZCDC’s failure to sell its diamond stockpiles has seen the company struggling to pay its employees for the past three months. The company is now working on clearing the backlog.
“We have not been able to pay the salaries. The company, just like many other organisations, has been facing a myriad of challenges owing to the Covid -19 pandemic. The pandemic disrupted our planned diamond sales since most of our buyers come from beyond the borders.
“However, we are now deploying innovative marketing strategies to go around the current challenges. Although we still owe our employees, we are happy that payment of their salaries has commenced and production is underway,” he said.
On the impact of Covid-19 on production, Mr De Pretto said, “The full impact of the loss has been on the carats production. ZCDC’s quick response to the situation has reduced the potential impact, which also extends to loss of revenue owing to closed diamond markets and other Covid-19 induced market disruptions.”
Besides challenges faced in marketing the precious gems, production targets have also been strained.
“Our operations were also affected due to disrupted supply of spares. Most of our spares and consumables are imported. Even local suppliers have been closed, with only a few opening on a case by case basis,” he said.
ZCDC is not the only diamond mining company feeling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Diamond mining giants, De Beers, who are the world’s second-largest producers, reported a 28 percent year-on-year decline in sales at US$355 million during its second sales cycle of 2020, down from the US$551 recorded during its first sales cycle of the year.
Speaking on the safety measures put in place at the Chiadzwa mines, Mr De Pretto said they have devised a decongestion plan which has seen the staff complement being reduced by 50 percent to maintain physical distancing.
“As soon as Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, the company put in place a robust and comprehensive Covid-19 prevention and response plan. We have preventive measures in place, including the provision of hand sanitisers, disinfection of all public spaces and public transport, physical distancing in offices, buses, accommodation facilities and canteens.
“We are also restricting gatherings in line with the Government’s directives, while providing personal protective equipment, including face masks,” he said.